By JIM NICHOLS
His given name was Leroy, although everyone called him Roy (except for his children and grandchildren).
Roy was a bus driver eventually, although he worked his way through other jobs. One of his early positions was as a door-to-door salesperson for the Fuller Brush Company. That sentence sets the period for his life and this story. Roy had a large case of brushes of assorted sizes and shapes and he knocked doors in hopes of selling them. One characteristic of Roy was that he did not spell particularly well. On some invoices rather than writing “bowl brush” he would write “bowel brush.” His young wife thought this was a hilarious, though accurate, inventive spelling.
A more permanent job was as a streetcar driver. The big city where he lived was laced with roads for cars, but those roads also had streetcar tracks. Because streetcars and automobiles shared the road, the streetcars on their tracks clearly were the rulers of the street. They were propelled by electricity carried by a network of overhead wires. Each streetcar had a flexible extension from its roof that slid along the electric power lines. The extension would bend as the streetcar turned a corner. This connection was moveable, and sparks were consistently generated along with the obvious odor of ozone (also given off from lightning flashes). Some people have called it the “smell of electricity.” It was exciting to a child. Roy let grandchildren ride for free.
The city phased out streetcars and replaced them with buses. Roy became a bus driver and wore a uniform of worker gray pants and shirt; he also had a bus driver hat. He looked official and important. Grandchildren like uniforms.
Every mid-afternoon Roy would report to the bus barn where an impressive number of city buses were parked and waiting. For years he drove the Roanoke route, named for one of the streets on the line. The route was an hour-long loop from the outskirts of the city through downtown and back. The route was carefully timed and planned to allow about six minutes at the end of the line; this was flexible so that he could adjust when he left for the next loop. The six minutes was just enough for him to run into the corner drugstore and buy candy for grandchildren riding along that night.
The steering wheel of the bus was enormous, and, before the days of power steering, he developed strong shoulder and arm muscles guiding the bus through traffic. He was strong enough that he could swing a small body onto his shoulders and march around while playing his harmonica. One time the swing went astray, and the child hit him in the eye with a knee. Roy yelled in pain and soon had a black eye, but he continued the stunt later. He often complained about the poor driving of automobiles. He apparently ignored a relative (a car driver) who complained about the way buses were driven.
People do not take public transportation because they want to; they take it because they must. Some riders are sporadic, but others have a clear pattern. For the drivers of the buses (or street cars), the regular riders become friends and, in some cases, confidantes. They greet one another warmly and ask about one another’s families. They know when family members are sick or away at war. Sporadic riders carefully pay attention to where they need to get off so they can pull the cord and make the sound the driver interprets as “off at the next stop.” The regular riders know the driver will stop at the correct place.
Roy was running a bus ministry. He was part of the routine of the lives of his riders, and they would wait for him in the cold, rain, and dark and welcome a place on his bus. Similarly, he anticipated their entrance and greeted each with a smile and a kind word.
Roy did not obviously preach and would be embarrassed for us to suggest that he was doing something spiritual. He was, however, following Matthew 25 and welcoming Jesus onto his bus. Whether they rode for most of the route or just a while, Roy was their friend. He was a hero and not just to his grandchildren.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain